Ebenezer Obey: Unstoppable Flight Of Destiny (1)

By Tunde Odesola

The newborn arrives the world knuckled up. In his clenched right fist is fate. On the left is destiny. Little wonder life is a struggle between fate and destiny. Fate is one-way; destiny is itinerant. Fate slams shut like a coffin, sealed, airtight, with a finality; destiny is open like a shelf containing storybooks portraying bad and good characters.

In the Greek classic tragedy, ‘Oedipus Rex’, which Ola Rotimi robes in African culture, to produce ‘The gods are not to blame’, youthful Odewale, by his strength and magical powers, goes on the destined road to greatness but his inescapable fate was already cemented by the gods, who had decreed he would kill his father and marry his mother. For Odewale, fate is optionless but destiny is optional. It goes to say that Man’s conquest of his weakness, his Achilles heel, is the ultimate hope in triumphing over the gods who are never to blame. Fate is divine, free will is mankind.

It is destiny that irresistibly attracts a toddler to football. Fate makes him emerge as a World Cup winner. Lionel Messi comes to mind. Destiny magnetises a youngster to life in the military, fate kills him in a coup or propels him to power thereafter. General Murtala Muhammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo come to mind.

Explaining the Yoruba worldview on fate and free will, a Professor of Yoruba Language and Literature, Wande Abimbola, said in a telephone interview with me that fate is ‘Orí’ or ‘Àyànmó’ while he described free will as ‘Ìwà’, known in English as character or behaviour.

Abimbola, a former Vice Chancellor, of Obafemi Awolowo University, said, “Western philosophy doesn’t believe fate is alterable but Yoruba philosophy believes fate could be slightly changed, at least, to make it sufferable. The Yoruba believe that fate could be changed through sacrifice, which can lessen an unfortunate fate.”

Speaking with me on the phone, the Araba of Osogbo, Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, said fate ‘is what will happen’, adding that destiny is ‘what a man came into the world to do’. He summarises the finality of fate in a proverb, “Lè s’ebo, lè s’ògùn, bá ti wáyé pé aó rí, ni aó rí.”

I believe most success stories begin with a passion, followed by dedication and consistency. Focus is the headlamp in the journey to greatness. The seed of greatness can sprout on a rock or in water just as white pap comes forth from the sooty pot. Legends are not town-specific, I daresay.

Despite advancements in science and technology, the essence of life is depreciating daily. Values are eroding, creating gullies in morality, with danger lurking in the blinding darkness called the future. Today, rats no longer squeak like rats. Birds no longer chirp like birds. Even the colours of the rainbow are no longer seven.

To lie idle, Odewale says in ‘The gods are not to blame’, is to be crippled fast. Nigeria will not be crippled fast if Nigerians start the journey to redemption now. Let’s go!

“Let’s go!” That’s the catchphrase of Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey to his band members whenever the stage is set, his fans are waiting, the atmosphere is charged, and the big masquerader is ready to enter the arena of spectacle.

At birth, fate set him up for greatness, making his Owu mother break water in a Methodist Church, 81 years ago, in Ìdògò, a Yewa community of Ogun State. On the eighth day, he was christened Ebenezer Remilekun Aremu Olasupo Fabiyi.

As a toddler on all fours, destiny ceaselessly crawled Ebenezer towards the choir’s pew, where he would gaze at the drums in wonderment, giggling widely, exposing his toothless gums, drooling and shaking his legs and feet in excitement. His mother would grab him and take him far away from the drums, only for him to crawl back there before his mother caught her breath. The pastor of the church, who saw the mother’s up and down movement, took the little boy from her, prayed for him and prophesied that he would grow up to be a musician.

The mother didn’t say amen to the prayer for she wished for her son to be a medical doctor or a lawyer instead because, in her view, it was the only way he could ride a ‘pleasure car’ or go to England, Ilu Oba.

Years later, he joined the choir and rose to lead it as destined. Exhibiting exemplary leadership qualities, he also became the leader of his primary school band in Ìdògò, making the title, Commander, which he acquired much later, an affirmation of his organisational and leadership traits.

Obey, the name that eclipsed his surname, Fabiyi, wasn’t given by his parents. Obey was a name that stuck in primary school when he was a class monitor. In those days, teachers didn’t brook explanations from truant or dim-witted students, whose palms, backs and buttocks they flogged amid shouts of ‘Obey before complain!’ As a class monitor, Ebenezer would re-echo ‘obey before complain’ as the teacher’s cane stung palms, backs and buttocks, rupturing the skin. Thus Ebenezer got his Obey from ensuring obedience, more than 60 decades before ‘Obidient’ became a political movement in Nigeria.

Obey knew he couldn’t do music in Ìdògò under the same roof as his disciplinarian mother. So, he set his sights on Lagos, where his father worked, and as soon as he finished primary school, he left the village for the city. Though his father was also strict, Lagos provided an irresistible opportunity to learn, play and grow in music.

As a teenager, he plodded the streets of Lagos in the early 50s, going home to sleep at night but always on the lookout for any place where music was being played.

However, before moving to Lagos, Obey cut his music teeth in his village with the Ifelodun Mambo Orchestra formed by some Ìdògò elders, including his kinsman, Sabitu Ayinla Fasaasi aka Vasco Da Gama, whom Obey highly respects to date on account of being seven years older than him. Obey later invited Vasco Da Gama to join his band which he formed in Lagos, in 1957.

Speaking with me in a telephone chat, a journalist, music historian and popular content creator, Dele Adeyanju, who had done intensive research into the evolution of various Nigerian musical genres, expressed the need to preserve the origins of Nigerian music forms.

Adeyanju had done extensive interviews with leading Nigerian musicians who included the late Fatai Rolling Dollar, King Sunny Ade, Sir Shina Peters, and Segun Adewale, among others. His interview with Obey, in particular, provides answers to the journey of Juju music from the days of Agidigbo music percussion to the tonnes of sacrifices made by budding musicians before success came smiling. Adeyanju’s online TV is called Agbaletu.

The reigning music at the time, Agidigbo, was what Chief Commander played when he first got to Lagos. When he wanted to learn the ‘agidigbo’, it was to Fatai Rolling Dollar that Obey turned, and the former, who later became his master, taught him how to play the agidigbo with five fingers, an unimaginable feat in that era because every popular musician played the agidigbo ‘expertly’ with two fingers.

Life is lived in phases. This fact throws up the following questions: What’s the meaning of Juju music? Who created Juju music? What challenges did Obey face during the evolution of his band?

• To be continued.

Written by Tunde Odesola and first published in The PUNCH, on Friday, December 15, 2023)
Email: tundeodes2003@yahoo.com
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